FDA considers menthol cigarette ban, a divisive issue among some liberals, others

Menthols are particularly popular among African Americans and young people.
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Marlboro and Newport menthol cigarettes.
Packs of menthol cigarettes sits on a table, November 15, 2018
(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday proposed a ban on menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars – cited efforts to curb smoking and other health-related concerns. 

"The proposed rules would help prevent children from becoming the next generation of smokers and help adult smokers quit," Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a press release. "Additionally, the proposed rules represent an important step to advance health equity by significantly reducing tobacco-related health disparities."

As of 2019, more than 18 million people over 12 in the U.S. smoked menthol cigarettes. The FDA noted that menthols are particularly popular among young people and African Americans.

"These studies also estimate that 324,000 to 654,000 smoking attributable deaths overall (92,000 to 238,000 among African Americans) would be avoided over the course of 40 years," the agency also said. 

Critics of the ban say it unfairly targets African Americans, among whom menthol cigarettes are popular.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Over 7 out of 10 African American youth ages 12-17 years who smoke use menthol cigarettes [and] African American adults have the highest percentage of menthol cigarette use compared to other racial and ethnic groups."

Menthol is believed to make the cigarette easier to inhale, making the harmful chemicals from cigarettes more easy to absorb.

The FDA said that the bans would reduce the appeal of cigars and cigarettes to the public. While the agency cannot stop individual consumers from possessing the menthol cigarettes or flavored cigars, the FDA can stop manufacturers and distributors from selling the products.

"The authority to adopt tobacco product standards is one of the most powerful tools Congress gave the FDA and the actions we are proposing can help significantly reduce youth initiation and increase the chances that current smokers quit. It is clear that these efforts will help save lives," FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, M.D said.

"Through the rule-making process, there’s an important opportunity for the public to make their voices heard and help shape the FDA’s ongoing efforts to improve public health," he also said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) also endorsed the proposed prohibition. "Ending the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars will help forge a healthier future, especially for young people," she tweeted.

Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn also supported the ban. "U.S. health officials say a menthol ban would reduce youth initiation, increase the success rate for smokers trying to quit, and address health disparities across racial groups," he tweeted.

Some took to Twitter to voice opposition to the FDA's proposal.

"The same government giving out free crack pipes is trying to ban menthol cigarettes," author Ashley St. Clair said.

BASEDPolitics host Hannah Cox tweeted that she wants to "end the war on drugs, stop criminalizing people for what they put into their body, get nonviolent people out of jail," while President Joe Biden wants to have the "war on drugs, but make it menthol cigarettes."

Speculation started last year that the Biden administration would propose a menthol cigarette ban. The FDA said in April 2021 that the agency would try to ban menthol cigarettes.